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Chapter 5

For the next three hours Benjamin walked on broken egg shells around Bethany. He had tried to ask her for lunch but she refused. Her tone was a warning for Benjamin to not try to cajole her for anything. He had retreated silently as if trying to save his skin. He had already canceled her interview with The Global Times and rescheduled it. He didn’t want her to face the press again in such fragile mindset. He had walked into a nearby diner and got himself burger and fries. After finishing his meal he had walked back with a sandwich in a paper bag. He came inside slowly and placed the bag on Bethany’s table. He then turned around and started walking out noiselessly when he was summoned.

“Benji”, his name was spoken in a voice that sounded so broken that he felt like scooping her up in his arms and making her pain go away.

“Yes B”, he turned around and but kept the physical distance. He was not sure if Bethany was ready to talk or not. So he decided to take the safer route.

“You didn’t have to do this”, she said looking at her packed lunch.

“I know I didn’t have to. I just wanted to”, he shrugged his shoulders.

“Thank you”, she replied softly.

With that the room once again went silent. Benjamin looked at his boss who was sitting curled up on her chair staring out the window. She looked deep in thought and lost. He knew better than to disturb her. He once again noiselessly removed himself from the room and went back to the space where they did all the photo shoots. He meandered around and tidied the space. He moved the props that were used in previous shoots and tucked them away safely to be returned back to the renting company. He cleared up the magazines and digital prints lying around. Once he was done, he looked around at the place and remembered a photo shoot from the past. He saw flashes from that day run through his mind.

It was the day he had first met Catherine Meyers. Bethany had introduced her as an old friend from her college days. She was now an art critic with The Modern Times, a prestigious news daily. Bethany was preparing a special photo album for Catherine to gift it on her anniversary to her husband. The shoot was real fun for the friends. Catherine wanted a glamorous photo shoot and that’s what Bethany did.

Bethany got Catherine dressed in different attires and made her strike different poses.

At one point, Bethany made Catherine sit down and stare sensually into her camera. She puckered up her lips and swooned a little. The look was perfect. She looked like a seductress ready to take you on a ride of your lifetime. It was good enough to give anybody weak knees and dry mouth.

Then Bethany made her spread her arms wide open as if inviting you to join her in a seductive trance that she was experiencing. And Bethany captured it through her lens. The light was dimmed down in the room to get that feeling of longing. The red dress that Bethany had selected for Catherine made her look hypnotizing. The bronzed hair adding to the enigma that Bethany had created for her camera.

The camaraderie between the women was evident. But then Bethany was the kind of photographer who was able to build a connection with her subjects and make them feel comfortable in their most vulnerable state.

Catherine soon became a regular in Bethany’s personal and professional life. Just like Bethany was honest and devoted to her profession, Catherine was to her job. She was brutally honest when it came to reviewing photos. There came times when she and Bethany looked at some photos differently and their opinions clashed. She even wrote some scathing reviews about Bethany’s nude photography. But the difference in opinion never stood between them. And then one day Catherine crossed the line.

In one of her reviews she wrote about Bethany’s mom and how there was a chance that her past affected Bethany’s work.

Bethany’s mom, Sharon, was a street woman – a prostitute – who worked the streets of Las Vegas. She had a chance encounter with a rich and handsome man called Richard Hill. A weekend of fun and sin turned into something more meaningful for the two. Richard Hill came back again and again and again for this woman who held his heart. Every time he was in town he booked her completely. He would take her out for a drive. They would stop somewhere in the middle of the desert and just stare out into the vast dry expanse. He would buy her flowers. She would bring him home baked cookies. They would watch movies, Disney movies to be specific. They would settle down comfortably in his suite with a tub of popcorn and watch Mickey Mouse. They would laugh their hearts out till it hurt.

During his stay, Richard would never make any physical advances towards her. For more than two years he courted her unconditionally. He treated her with love, care, and respect. And then one day he had her. One day when he professed his love for her, she couldn’t say no. And then they decided to get married.

Richard’s family never accepted Sharon. For them she was a gold digger who had her claws deep inside Richard. But they knew. They knew their love and affection was beyond materialistic gains. They were two star crossed lovers who had found each other. And they didn’t let go of each other. At their wedding they took the vow of ‘till death do us apart’ and that’s exactly what happened.

Sharon left behind a shattered and forlorn Richard with a 9 year old Bethany to care for. It took him some time to get his life back on track but he loved Bethany more than ever before. It was as if he was compensating for the mother that the girl had lost. He spoilt her to no extent. After all Bethany was a part of Sharon that she had left behind for him to look after.

When he saw that she was particularly interested in photography, he bought her the first camera. And that gave wings to the now teenager. He enrolled her into a photography class to give her hobby a formal structure. And from then on there was no looking back for Bethany. She graduated as arts major and soon went to Paris to get trained. Here she was exposed to the more risqué world of nude modeling and photography. This intrigued her to a great extent. And she took it up. She had an eye for beauty and pose. But what mattered most was that she was able to make her models feel comfortable and powerful. She could talk them into shedding away their inhibitions. And that is what gave her great shots.

By now, Bethany was independent and curious. She had been seeing her relatives from her mom’s side. But she never saw anybody from her dad’s side. She questioned him and got to know that his family had cut him off long time back when he had married Sharon. And then she got to know about her mom’s past. Richard did try to make things look better but Bethany was not naïve. She knew what her mother had been at one point of time. Although she never turned back to that life, that dark patch hovered over them always. Bethany knew her mom was white trash for the world at one point of time. But the woman had grown out of it and made something of herself. With Richard’s help she had come out of that miserable phase and become a woman of substance.

But for Bethany it was a huge heart break. The woman who she had looked up to had a past that was looked down upon. It was too much for a young naïve girl who still had to grow up. She lashed out at her father and her roots. She felt dirty and cheated. Although Richard did try to make things better, it was too much for a girl who had only seen the rosy part of life to understand how tough it can be out there.

During this tough phase, Catherine was the friend that stood by her. Her dorm room mate became her closest friend helping her find comfort in binge drinking merry making. And during one such drunken night Bethany poured her heart out to Catherine. She told her how ashamed she was of her mom’s past and how she felt vindicated. Bethany had never thought that that one mistake would come back to bite her so badly.

So when Catherine wrote one of her reviews she used that angle in her story. According to her Bethany was scarred by her mom’s past to such a great extent that she had started objectifying women. And it was this ability to emotionally disengage from her subjects that made her such a good photographer. Her inability to associate with the feminine side of these women made it easy for her to portray them as nude subjects of her photos in whatever setting. This deep rooted hatred for her mom had made her numb towards her female subjects.

The review for the first time had opened the lid on Bethany’s personal life. She became a scoop for the paparazzi. There were pictures of her splashed across different tabloids. People started digging through her personal life looking for some glaring incidences.

On personal front, Richard was furious with her for dishing out such dirt in public. He stopped talking to her. He had loved Sharon with all his heart and was not going to see their own daughter malign her in public eye. So he did the one thing that he could think of. He disowned her!

Once out on her own without her father’s support Bethany saw the real face of life. For the first time she understood what life would have been like for Sharon who was broke when she met Richard. That one incident was enough for Bethany to grow up. Although she was famous for her work and doing well on her own, the lack of comfort and support from her father was an eye opener.

The person who she had considered to be a friend had betrayed her. The drunken confession had become her nemesis. When confronted, Catherine took her own stand saying she did what she was expected to do in her job – write a sensational piece on the new upcoming artist Bethany Hill. From that moment on Bethany had put on a cold façade against Catherine. Although they were conversed in a civil manner, the bitterness in Bethany had never left her. Catherine got invited to her showings and openings due to her now esteemed position as a recognized art critic, Bethany never entertained her.

At 7, he walked into her room and stopped in his tracks.

There she was curled up in a rocking chair with her arms wrapped around her. She was asleep. But the silent tears that she had shed had left their streaks on her face. She had calmed down sometime in the day and dozed off. It was so typical of her. Not seeking comfort when people around were ready to give it. She would rather wallow silently in her pain and misery than take the comfort offered to her.

She had hid herself in her room and cursed herself over and over again for that one mistake of her life.

Benjamin crouched down next to her and looked her closely. He tenderly lifted the tendrils of hair that had fallen on her face and tucked them behind her ear. She cooed and snuggled deeper into the chair. He decided to wake her up and take her home. But before that he decided to take a few minutes to just watch her unguarded and unaware. This was the time when he could see Bethany in her most real form. There were no curtains and no walls. And he cherished that. He loved and cherished this Bethany Hill that he rarely saw anymore, except when she was on that long distance call.

Catherine’s betrayal had broken her. But it had also opened up a new door to Bethany’s life. Having been hurt by her one time friend and being shut out by her own father, she took off. She packed her bags and left. Her search for peace took her to the enchanted land of India. With Benjamin in tow and deep rooted restless of her soul, she landed in India with hopes of finding redemption. And she found it. She found it in a person that changed her art forever.

But was this leading her to a whole new mess? Benjamin was pretty sure that it was. He was worried and it was fair enough on his part. He had seen Bethany break down to pieces. It had taken him quite some time to put her back together again. His efforts had made him protective towards his friend. He knew that once emotionally bankrupt Bethany was now sowing the seeds of an obsession. It was an obsession that could make or break lives. And this time it was not just Bethany’s life that was at stake here. There was more that than and he was really worried about how it could all blow up in their face.

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